The phone call came from the pastor of my youth, my home church pastor, the man who first posed the whole ministry question to me over a barbeque sandwich. Bob Gartman believed that barbeque could seal almost any deal, a Texan’s assessment if ever there was one. “I just came from Art Digby’s funeral and wanted to call you.” I knew that if someone called me about Art’s death and funeral it would be Bob. He had first introduced us those many years ago.
When I first arrived at seminary at Brite Divinity School Bob Gartman was down in Fort Worth working on a doctorate. He made sure I had something to eat. I also met plenty of his minister friends. One of those was Art Digby, then Senior Minister at First Christian Church, Arlington, Texas. What I didn’t know is that the two friends were hatching a plot.
I needed a part time church job, one that could serve as my seminary internship. First Christian needed a part-time youth/music director. The timing was perfect and would serve intern and church well. But how do you make such a decision, other than trusting the biased opinion of your friend. I was surprised to learn how Art would do it.
Bob had told Art that I liked to play tennis. I did like it, however mediocre my game. So Art suggested we go play. Was he sure? The man had thirty years on me. In short order I would discover why that didn’t matter. I picked up Art in my old 1970 Ford Maverick, the one I filled with STP oil treatment rather than oil itself. We head to the nearest courts and began our play. He bested me match after match. Defeated but not bowed I took Art home, but only after making a quick stop at the bank to withdraw some money. They accidentally overpaid me and I sent the overage back in to them.
As I dropped Art off he said, “Ok, let’s plan an interview with the committee.” Really? How did we move to that so soon? Only later would I discover why, compliments of Bob Gartman. “Your tennis game was the first part of your interview,” he said. “Art wanted to see how you would handle yourself under pressure, deal with your own mistakes and losses, and how you would treat your partner.” I nodded. Unbeknownst to me he was sizing up not only my abilities but my character, my personality. Art Digby knew that if he had the right kind of people on his team he would have the right team. Later Art relayed another part of the tennis day. “Remember when we drove through the bank?” he asked. Well, I vaguely did. “They overpaid you and you returned the five dollars.” Yes, I remembered that. “It was then I knew I could trust you.”
So why did Art Digby size up people in that way? Because the qualities he valued in others were the same ones exemplified in his own life. He was a man of character, integrity, wisdom, charity, self-control and devotion. I, on the other hand, was a snotty nosed kid who only partially knew it at the time. Passing years, experience and struggle would cause me to value those remarkable attributes differently.
The last time I met with Art he had already lost his beloved wife, Joy, partner for so many years. Life was hard but Art carried himself with a sad and hopeful kind of dignity. I will never attain to either the piety or level of leadership that Art possessed. But I am thankful that he suggested we play tennis on that hot summer day. In the years following he taught me much, often without knowing it. And we will miss him.
Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám